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|Also Known As:||Steven Root,Stephen D Root||Died:|
|Born:||November 17, 1951||Cause of Death:|
|Birth Place:||Sarasota, Florida, USA||Profession:||Cast ... actor waiter|
A gifted and immensely likeable character actor, Stephen Root's staggering résumé crossed into multiple genres and mediums, despite the average viewer most likely knowing him more by face than by name. Root achieved his most prolific success with two roles: the stapler-obsessed cubicle rat Milton in the cult comedy "Office Space" (1999) and the oddball billionaire Jimmy James on the sitcom "NewsRadio" (NBC, 1995-99). Often appearing as various legal professionals, grieving fathers, Southern sheriffs, military men or football coaches on television shows like "In the Heat of the Night" (NBC, 1988-94) and "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08), Root also gave solid supporting turns in movies as diverse as "Bicentennial Man" (1999) and "No Country for Old Men" (2007), and lent his voice to such projects as the animated series "King of the Hill" (Fox, 1997-2010), the Pixar blockbuster "Finding Nemo" (2003) and even videogames. Root's scene-stealing work went on to enhance a number of projects over the years, attracting the attention of such respected talents as the Coen Brothers, Mike Judge and George Clooney. Determined to avoid typecasting, Root made sure to regularly alternate between comedy and drama, and his experience in both disciplines, gained via years of work in regional theater and the National Shakespeare Company, provided him with an excellent skill set to portray a wide array of people, average and otherwise.
Stephen Root was born on Nov. 17, 1951 in Sarasota, FL, but as his father was a civil engineer who was expected to move every time a new steam power plant opened, he was actually raised all over the Midwest. Root saved for his post-secondary education by working construction jobs as a teenager, eventually attending the University of Florida. He did not immediately consider acting, choosing to study journalism instead. However, it was clear after two years that this was not his field, so he took directing and acting classes as electives, which led to small roles in plays. Switching his major and throwing himself fully into this new pursuit, Root aced a regional theater audition and through perseverance, ended up being accepted by the National Shakespeare Company. Over the next three years, Root and 11 other actors and actresses toured the United States in a Greyhound Bus performing in "The Winter's Tale," "The Comedy of Errors" and "Romeo and Juliet."
When his run with the Company ended, Root moved to New York City and performed in small productions of standards like "Journey's End," before making his Broadway debut in "So Long on Lonely Street" (1986), a show Root had first been a part of in Atlanta, followed by a revival of Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" (1987). In order to build up his CV and become better known to New York casting directors, Root accepted several unpaid acting assignments and at one point was so broke, he had to jump the turnstile when taking the subway. After doing only theater work from 1980 onward, doors finally began to open and he made his film debut as a scientist in George A. Romero's horror thriller, "Monkey Shines" (1988), but also essayed small parts in "Crocodile Dundee II" (1988) and "Ghost" (1990).
Fifteen months in a national touring company production of "Driving Miss Daisy" finally landed Root in Los Angeles and that exposure helped ignite his movie and TV career. Regular guest spot work on various programs led to his first series role on the comedy "Harts of the West" (CBS, 1993-94), which failed to find an audience and left the air after one season. However, Root quickly rebounded in a big way with one of his two signature roles - that of hyper station manager Jimmy James, who walked an amusing line between crafty and clueless on the underrated critical favorite, "NewsRadio" (NBC, 1995-99). His character was originally envisioned by the show's producers as an older man along the lines of Gordon Jump's milquetoast boss on "W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati" (CBS, 1978-1982), but Root won them over with his revised take on the part, often stealing scenes from comic heavyweights like Phil Hartman and Andy Dick. At the same time he was enjoying sitcom exposure, he also received a CableACE Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work in the TV movie, "The Road to Galveston" (USA Network, 1996). After "NewsRadio" eventually ended in the wake of Hartman's tragic murder by his wife in May 1998, Root moved on to another series regular part on the short-lived Sharon Lawrence/Alfred Molina sitcom, "Ladies Man" (CBS, 1999-2001).
In the mid-1990s, Root began a long association with animator Mike Judge via the animated comedy series "King of the Hill" (Fox, 1997-2010). Previous experience playing Southern characters gave Root the local accent Judge desired and the actor provided the voices of Bill Dauterive, protagonist Hank Hill's loveable loser of a neighbor, Hill's boss Buck Strickland, as well as a host of others over the course of the program's 13-year run. Consequently, Judge rewarded the actor with the part for which he would become most recognized, for better or worse - that of timid, mumbling, stapler-loving office drone Milton Waddams, whose trying existence slowly and hilariously pushes him over the edge in the cult classic comedy, "Office Space" (1999). The film flopped at the box office, but went on to develop a huge audience via DVD and cable, making stars out of John C. McGinley and Ron Livingston and creating a following for Milton, with fans regularly presenting Root with the character's favorite brand of stapler to autograph.
Root also joined the Coen Brothers' talent stable in their unique period musical sendup, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000), where he played the memorable role of a blind radio station manager. Root's consistently hilarious work on "King of the Hill" firmly established him as a key voice talent in the world of animation and videogames, and he enjoyed one of his most beloved voice assignments as Bubbles, the Yellow Tang fish, in the Pixar smash "Finding Nemo" (2003). Network, syndicated and specialty television networks frequently employed Root and he appeared during the final two seasons of "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006) and had a small, but notable role in the Coens' multiple Oscar-winning drama "No Country for Old Men" (2007) as the man who helps bring Woody Harrelson's character into the film's complex narrative.
Root was especially impressive during a four-episode stint of "True Blood" (HBO, 2008- ) as a closeted gay man who also happens to be a vampire, kidnapped by mortals for his blood, and then leads an equally miserable existence in that new form, and the friendship he developed with George Clooney when the two appeared in "O Brother..." led the superstar to tap Root for a part in Clooney's directorial effort "Leatherheads" (2008). He also did solid dramatic turns in "The Soloist" (2009), "The Conspirator" (2010), Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" (2011), and a 2011 episode of J.J. Abrams' fan favorite "Fringe" (Fox, 2008 - ), which also provided him with the chance to act opposite his wife, Romy Rosemont (whom he wed in 2008). Root played another unfortunately closeted gay man who comes to a bad end in Kevin Smith's gory black comedy "Red State" (2011) and enjoyed additional high-profile voice work assignments in Gore Verbinski's Western smash "Rango" (2011), and the critically lauded made-for-video feature "Batman: Year One" (2011).
By John Charles
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